A lion and two lionesses at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve.
A lion and two lionesses at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

Ranger with a heart for wild animals

By James Mahlokwane Time of article published Nov 2, 2017

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JEANDRI Weideman is not just a hero to human beings, but also to wild animals, and after 13 years of caring for animals at a Pretoria nature reserve and seeing them go through everything possible, the park ranger shed tears of heartbreak as she spoke of the recent deaths of two lionesses.

Weideman took a team from the Pretoria News on a tour of Rietvlei Nature Reserve, including the lion enclosure where the four remaining lions were being kept.

She spoke with sadness about the death of River and Serabi, who died from poisoning last month.

And as she spoke with raw emotion of the love she had for the animals, Weideman earned herself the title of a hero and, without a doubt, demonstrated she had been a hero since she dedicated her career to wildlife conservation.

She moved to the reserve three years ago after 10 years on the job, and had since become attached to the endangered species.

She struggled to accept the title of a hero as she loves what she does and cannot see herself doing anything else.

“It is easy to love the animals because they are innocent and beautiful creatures,” she said.

She added that for that reason, it hurt to see rhinos poached and lions poisoned even after steps were taken to educate the public that their tissue was neither muti nor a symbol of status.

Weideman obtained a Nature Conservation Diploma at Tshwane University of Technology and is enrolled for a B Tech degree at the same institution next year.

“I have loved animals since I can remember.

“I think my passion for the environment and outdoors comes from my dad who always took us to the farm when we were little and exposed us to nature at Kruger National Park.

“He taught me to have respect for all wildlife.”

She said she was saddened to be living in a world where rhinos had to be de-horned and lions moved to tinier enclosures just to protect them from humans.

“It’s very sad that we have to go to such extremes. For one, it’s very risky to dart such an animal because it is extremely stressful for them to be darted and de-horned and it can kill them.

“So basically, you are risking their lives to protect them at the same time that is very unfair to them, done just because some humans are greedy and selfish.

“South Africa is a beautiful country with lots of special aspects, one of which is our wildlife.

“It’s a very important part of our heritage, to protect for our children and their children. One of the things overseas people come to Africa for is to enjoy our wildlife - it boosts our tourism.”

When the two popular lionesses were fed poisonous food a few weeks ago, Weideman and Friends of the Rietvlei Nature Reserve were emotionally shattered.

“I started feeling very sad and heartbroken, I still feel like that. Those feelings turn into anger eventually as you don’t know who did such a cruel act and why.

“It makes me angry because those lions were innocent. All they did was to eat the meat, which they were supposed to, and humans put poison on the meat and they died a very slow, cruel death.

“Those lions knew how to show love, especially River.

“She would always come and greet you and rub against the gate wanting to say hello, like your house cat who comes and rubs against your legs to say hello.

“A person who poisons innocent animals is a very cruel person with no respect for life; they don’t have any feeling whatsoever for animals. It’s one of the cruellest things you can do to something or someone.”

After all she had seen, Weideman said she found the thought of retirement a bit scary because she had to trust somebody else to do a job she had dedicated her life to.

She said it was for that reason that she commenced training students and other people about the job.

“In my opinion, I would like a person who has heart, passion and compassion for wildlife to go on with the work I started. As well, the person has to have dedication and must never give up!

“This line of work is very challenging, especially with the poaching crisis going on.

“So it’s very important that you always have strength to go on and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”

She believes people can be better educated about wildlife to avoid acts like poaching.

Education was an important tool in the battle against poaching, she said.

“There is always room for education. I think it’s a very important key in winning the battle against poaching. We humans are responsible for looking after our wildlife and education can only improve that. I always try to teach people that it’s not only me who studied conservation who can make a difference, they can as well.

“I would like to see that there is space for all on Earth, that we can co-exist without any violence and cruelty towards animals. A world without poaching would be good.”

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